The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent mayoral candidates a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city. Toni Preckwinkle submitted the following responses Dec. 23 (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Toni Preckwinkle?
Her political/civic background:
- 4th Ward Alderman (1991-2010)
- Democratic Committeeman (1992-Present)
- Executive Vice Chair of Cook County Democratic Party (2010)
- Cook County Board President (2010-Present)
Her occupation: Cook County Board President
Her education: University of Chicago, BA, MA
Campaign website: https://toniforchicago.com/
Chicago is on the hook for $42 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, which works out to $35,000 for every household. Those pensions, in the language of the Illinois Constitution, “shall not be diminished or impaired.” Should the state Constitution be amended to allow a reduction in pension benefits for current city employees or retirees? How about reducing pension benefits for new employees? Please explain.
Toni Preckwinkle: I do not think the state Constitution should be amended to allow any reductions to promised pension benefits for current city workers or retirees. We owe it to our workers and retirees to fully fund our pension system. Relying on the state to help us with our pension crisis is a gamble we can not afford to take. We have to find creative ways to generate progressive and long term revenue to help fund our pension obligations.
Of the following often proposed sources of new revenue for Chicago, which of the following do you favor, and why?
- A Chicago casino
Toni Preckwinkle: While I, along with many in our community, have had concerns about the impact of government-sponsored casinos, particularly on low-income residents, the reality is that we already face this challenge via gambling in nearby suburbs and right across the border in Indiana. That’s why I support a Chicago casino as a potential generator for revenue and jobs. My support would also be contingent on the guarantee that a casino would incorporate a substantial share of women and minorities as both contractors and employees.
- Legalized and taxed recreational marijuana
Toni Preckwinkle: Yes, I have long been a supporter of legalizing recreational marijuana and decriminalizing harder substances. A majority of the arrests for low level drug offenses impact communities of color due to over policing, although studies have shown there is equal use among all demographics. When we legalize marijuana, we need to make sure the pricing is reasonable and accessible for people of all incomes so we don’t have a competing underground market. We also need to make sure the people who have been previously charged and convicted with these offenses have their records cleared. If and when recreational marijuana becomes legalized and taxed, we must ensure there are opportunities available for minority owned businesses to compete in this new market.
- A LaSalle Street tax
- A commuter tax
- A property tax increase
- A municipal sales tax increase
- A real estate transfer tax increase
- Video gambling
Toni Preckwinkle: I support a real estate transfer tax increase on properties sold for over $1 million. This would have the effect of generating $150 million annually to be dedicated to the city’s homeless population. In one year, the homeless population would be reduced by 10,000 through a combination of vouchers, conversions and new buildings.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Toni Preckwinkle: I will use the power and influence of the office of Mayor to ensure Illinois passes a constitutional amendment to permit a graduated income tax rate structure. Illinois is one of the most regressive tax states in the country. We need revenue to solve our problems and to ensure the state can live up to its promise to properly fund education. That revenue must be raised fairly by asking more from those who have more. The revenue from this initiative must be used to properly fund education and reign in the growing pension debt obligations.
The City of Chicago has entered into a federally monitored consent decree to overhaul the training and practices of the Chicago Police Department. Civil libertarians say it is long overdue, but others say it is unnecessary and could make it tougher for the police to do their job. What’s your view?
Toni Preckwinkle: The consent decree is much needed and long overdue. It is essential to the difficult, but necessary, work of rebuilding the relationship between police and the communities they are sworn to protect and serve.
A lack of accountability and an inability to develop strong relationships in Chicago’s communities are leading factors in CPD being one of the least effective large police forces in the United States in solving and preventing homicides and shootings. In 2017, CPD identified a suspect in only 17% of homicides and 5% of shootings. This is far lower than the national averages. Restoring trust between officers and communities will help improve these numbers, because more officers will develop relationships that yield the information that helps solve crimes.
The consent decree will also lead to better supervision and more appropriate, consistent training, both of which are necessary to create effective, constitutional policing at the CPD.
As Mayor, I will make sure that the Chicago Police Department fully complies with the mandates of the consent decree. However, police reform will require more than the consent decree. True and sustainable public safety requires a multi-faceted and coordinated approach. The Chicago Police Department must work closely with other local and federal law enforcement agencies, as well as other city departments, social service organizations and public health officials.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Toni Preckwinkle: Getting illegal firearms off the streets is one of the most urgent problems the city of Chicago faces. Every year CPD seizes thousands of illegal guns, but despite these efforts, lax gun laws in bordering states perpetuate a steady flow of illegally trafficked guns into Chicago. This problem is a result of too many gaps in federal and state gun laws, particularly those related to “straw purchasers,” or individuals who purchase firearms legally on behalf of others who are not legally eligible to purchase guns. As Mayor, I will advocate to strengthen gun laws at the state and federal level to give law enforcement the needed tools to put an end to illegal trafficking. I will ask Governor-elect JB Pritzker to sign Senate Bill 337, which requires Illinois gun dealers to be licensed by the Illinois State Police and increase their responsibilities to restrict straw purchases. I will ask the state legislature to pursue legislation that lowers the burden of proof for straw purchasers who buy guns that end up in the wrong hands. It will be a priority for my administration to lobby alongside our Congressional delegation to pass real federal gun reform that will make firearm trafficking a federal crime.
In addition to your thoughts on how to stem the problem of illegal guns, what else should the next mayor of Chicago do to reduce the rate of violent crime in our city?
Toni Preckwinkle: The rate of violence, especially gun violence in Chicago is tragic and unacceptable. As an educator and elected official, I’ve mourned with families that have lost loved ones. As mayor of Chicago, nothing will be a higher priority than bringing safety to all of Chicago’s neighborhoods.
Currently, there are only two full-time Mayoral personnel dedicated to the full scope of the city’s public safety concerns. While there has been the promise of a new Office of Violence Prevention within the Office of the Mayor in 2019, additional oversight of public safety within the Office of the Mayor is long overdue. However it is important this office be truly interdisciplinary, focusing on gun violence prevention and also the associated criminal justice challenges that destabilize communities. As mayor, I will ensure this new office fosters inter-agency collaboration between CPD, the Sheriffs Department and other state and federal law enforcement agencies and that it convenes task forces comprised of these agencies, other city departments, experts and community leaders addressing issues like neighborhood stabilization/wellness, youth intervention, witness and victim services, domestic violence, decarceration, expanded sanctuary, and returning residents.
When I am mayor, this new office will be modeled after a similar one in New York City, which has been successful in reducing crime, especially violent crime, to historic lows, while implementing reforms to decrease unnecessary incarceration and racial disparities in the criminal justice system through a holistic public health approach to public safety. When we look at the areas where violent crime is highest, we see communities suffering from disinvestment, joblessness, mental health service deficits, under-resourced neighborhood schools, and other social challenges. As mayor, I will make the necessary investments in public education, mental health services, housing and workforce development to transform communities over time. At same time, my administration will support targeted programs like READI, which provides jobs, training, and counseling to those individual most likely to offend or be victimized without intervention.
These type of investments combined with a more accountable, better-trained, constitutional police force with strong community relationships will lead to the safety that Chicago deserves.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Toni Preckwinkle: During the last administration, charters have become a weapon for corporate privatization of education. Given the scandals that occurred around Uno, Noble and other networks, it’s time to stop the expansion of school privatization so we can focus our efforts on improving oversight and ensuring that all our schools treat families, students, and teachers with respect. I support a freeze on any new charter schools until a fully elected school board can be implemented.
Should the Chicago Board of Education be solely appointed by the mayor, as is now the case? Or should Chicago switch to an elected school board or some hybrid? Please explain. What else would you do as mayor to improve the quality of public school education?
Toni Preckwinkle: I support a fully elected representative school board, with a structure that will ensure the board is truly representative of the rich and diverse fabric of our great city and limits the influence of outside interests in the election process. To improve the quality of our public education system, I support a tax reform package to generate real, progressive revenue and dedicate yearly TIF surpluses to public schools. With additional resources, Chicago Public Schools should focus on ensuring that every child, in every neighborhood, has access to a well-resourced public school that is able to meet the needs of the students and communities it serves. For many students, educational success can only be achieved with robust support both inside and outside of the classroom. CPS must invest in nurses, social workers, and critical support staff, such as teacher’s aids, to better serve all students, especially those with physical and mental health needs. More counselors are needed to serve the significant number of students who experience violence in their neighborhoods and families, and school leadership must do a better job at protecting students from any form of physical or sexual abuse at school.
Finally, CPS must commit to stability for communities and neighborhoods. That I why I’ve committed to a moratorium on school closings, which negatively impact educational outcomes for affected students and reflect a withdrawal of public support from communities that already lack critical resources and investment.
Chicago, by ordinance, is an official “welcoming city.” This means the Chicago police are generally prohibited from detaining undocumented immigrants on behalf of federal immigration authorities. What’s your position on this policy? What more — or less — should be done with respect to undocumented immigrants who live in Chicago?
Toni Preckwinkle: We absolutely must do more to protect undocumented immigrants and ensure their safety in our city. I have called for the end to the carve outs in the Welcoming City ordinance that empowers Chicago police to work hand-in-hand with ICE. I’m working with the lead sponsor of the City’s Welcoming City ordinance and the broader community coalition to make this a reality. As Cook County Board President, I oversaw the approval of an ordinance that allowed uninsured Cook County residents earning under $48,000 and undocumented immigrants to see primary care physicians within the Cook County Health & Hospital System, that helped nearly 40,000 people in 2017. This ensures that undocumented immigrants have access to necessary care and protection without fear of law enforcement retribution.
I also support ending use of the inaccurate, racially discriminatory Chicago Police Department’s gang database, which is used to criminalize over 128,000 individuals, a majority of whom are Black and Latinx. False gang designations are then shared with ICE, impacting an individual’s opportunity to secure immigration relief.
What are the top three environmental concerns facing the next mayor of Chicago?
Toni Preckwinkle: Chicago’s top three environmental issues are contaminated water, clean energy, and environmental justice. It is intolerable that 380,000 buildings in Chicago still have lead service lines contaminating drinking water. We must replace them to prevent contact with water sources. The City must be transparent about a timetable and funding – and warn residents about anything the City knows about their lead service lines. I would tap federal funding sources such as the new Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act and the EPA Revolving Fund. We also need to keep plastics, pharmaceuticals and other pollutants out of our waterways, and prioritize more natural “green” infrastructure to reduce the effects of flooding.
The planet is warming faster, and Chicago faces flooding, heat waves and threats to Lake Michigan. Clean, renewable energy should power our city. I have reduced greenhouse gas emissions from County buildings 32% since 2010 and installed solar energy, electric vehicle charging stations, and clean geothermal heating and cooling. The County is purchasing Renewable Energy Credits from wind power for 20% of its electricity in 2019 – at less cost than our 2018 electricity bill. We must help buildings large and small be more efficient and tap clean renewable energy. Building codes must assure new buildings are more efficient from the beginning. Chicago should be electric-vehicle ready – and have the best public transportation system in the country as well as walkable neighborhoods to reduce fuel emissions.
Dirty air, land and water disproportionately affect disenfranchised communities. Communities need to be involved in planning and environmental decisions that affect them. But even more, a clean environment can be a “green new deal” creating jobs and educational opportunities. I would seek funding sources, e.g. USEPA Brownfield grants (Cook County received the highest amount of brownfield funding in the nation in 2018) to remediate contaminated sites to grow clean, well-paying jobs. I would forge partnerships with labor, community organizations, foundations and businesses to support workforce training, such as the contribution recently received from Union Pacific for job training programs at Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership.
Chicago is famously a city of neighborhoods, which is part of its charm, but also in some ways a weakness. It can make it hard to build bridges across racial, ethnic and social lines. What would you do to build those bridges?
Toni Preckwinkle: The next Mayor must acknowledge the uncomfortable reality that, for too long, the history of the Mayor’s Office has been shaped by a focus more on downtown than its surrounding neighborhoods. As a result, while our neighborhoods are vibrant and dynamic in a lot of ways, they also face many challenges around economic development & gentrification, public education, public health, and policing and public safety as a consequence of decades of the short end of the stick. The next Mayor must make the challenges and opportunities of our neighborhood communities the priority.
Because Chicago’s neighborhoods have evolved in a context of inequality, our solutions aren’t going to be about treating neighborhoods the same. Not every neighborhood faces the same challenges. But if every neighborhood has what it needs to thrive, different communities won’t feel pitted against each other for resources and influence the way they do now. It also means making the tough choices to ensure more equitable funding and focusing those resources first and foremost on the residents themselves, including enhancing the safety, human capital and economic stability of residents through investments in education, services, and jobs. The best way to bring the city together is to ensure that every neighborhood has strong public schools where every child can get a quality education, that every neighborhood is safe, and that every family can live affordably and comfortably, without the worry of being driven out of their homes and neighborhoods. It also means making sure that when it comes to the investments we make downtown, we need to continue to work with our largest employers to ensure that the opportunities they create are accessible to Chicagoans from every corner of the city. I am committed to unifying Chicago and making it a fair and equitable place for everyone.
What past or present Chicago mayor would you model yourself after or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Toni Preckwinkle: Mayor Harold Washington, a great friend and mentor to me, whose administration I served in from 1985 to 1988, is someone who inspires me to this day. He was a progressive and despite some really tough opposition, never wavered on being a Mayor for the entire city. Mayor Washington was strongly committed to “balanced development,” or the idea that Chicago could support the downtown area as an economic engine while also ensuring all of city’s neighborhoods thrived as well. Most importantly, Mayor Washington governed inclusively. Everyone, not just the powerful and well-connected, had a voice in his administration and that produced a more fair and just city. When elected, that’s the type of administration I will have.
Other than “Boss” (because everybody says “Boss”) what’s the best book ever written about Chicago, non-fiction or fiction. There are no wrong answers, of course, so we hope you’ll have some fun.
Toni Preckwinkle: American Pharoah.
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